Russian-affiliated hackers targeted at least 16 anti-doping and sports organizations around the world with cyberattacks, months before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan are set to begin, Microsoft officials warned this week.
The tech giant said the hacker group, known as “Fancy Bear” or “Strontium,” had launched attacks starting on Sept. 16 through various methods, including malware and a practice known as “spear-phishing.” Microsoft added that some of the attacks were successful, but did not say which agencies were affected.
“As the world looks forward with anticipation to the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020, we thought it important to share information about this new round of activity,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of customer security and trust.
“Fancy Bear” is said to be backed by Russian intelligence and was one of two groups affiliated with the Russian government responsible for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, the New York Times reported. It is also accused of carrying out a series of hacks targeting the World Anti-Doping Agency, including a breach that resulted in a leak of confidential medical data for U.S. gymnast Simone Biles and other American Olympic athletes.
The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed evidence of systematic state-sponsored doping efforts among the country’s athletes. On Sept. 23, WADA said that Russian Olympic officials had three weeks to explain discrepancies in doping data from a Moscow lab that may have been manipulated. WADA later delayed its decision to December.
The warning prompted Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov to acknowledge the country could face further punishment, including potential exclusion from the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo.
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said his organization had uncovered several unsuccessful attempts to breach its system that it “believes is related to the Fancy Bear group.” USADA reached out to Microsoft after noticing unusual activity around the same time WADA announced its ultimatum on Russia.
“I think it’s reflective, unfortunately, of the world we live in today and has somewhat become the new normal for us in sport when trying to hold state-sponsored doping in Russian accountable for the egregious violations that they did to innocent athletes,” Tygart said in a statement.
A WADA spokesperson confirmed to FOX Business that it was aware of Microsoft’s warning regarding the Russian-backed group’s hacking efforts, but had not uncovered evidence of a breach in its systems.
“WADA takes the issue of cyber-security extremely seriously. As a matter of course, the Agency closely and continually monitors all its systems, regularly updating and strengthening its defenses – both in terms of technological advancements and by ensuring our users are aware of and properly educated regarding security, the organization said in a statement.